Vigorous remakes at Virginia Art Museum and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture exterior renovations Virginia Science Museum and a thoughtful process of addition and subtraction to Valentine’s daythese cultural institutions are growing.
“Far Than You Can Imagine”
The Virginia Museum of History & Culture has launched a six-year, more than $30 million rejuvenation plan targeting significant anniversaries: 2026, the 250th anniversary of the United States – in which Virginia played a central role – and 2031 , the 200th anniversary of the museum’s founding as the Virginia Historical Society. (It was renamed in 2018.)
The administration of the non-profit institution, led by President and CEO Jamie Bosket, expected an 18-month hiatus in operations for the overhaul. This period corresponds to the estimate of a post-pandemic return to a semblance of normal visits, activities and income. The museum’s board saw an opportunity and donors responded. The museum closed in mid-December 2020, a few months after construction began, with Whiting Turner contractors following Glavé Holmes architects. Completion is expected in the spring of 2022, and VMHC announced in December 2021 that it would reopen over the weekend of May 14-15.
In addition to upgrades that include a cafe and dining terrace, VMHC has forged long-term collections partnerships with the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia and the American Civil War Museum.
The biggest and most innovative aspect of the museum’s reboot is the successor to its flagship exhibit, “The History of Virginia,” which will be replaced by “Our Commonwealth.”
The naming of the presentation speaks of the official name of the state but also of the people who make up a sense of Virginia. The word “Commonwealth” has a lot of meaning, says Andrew Talkov, senior director of conservation affairs. “We even debated whether we should split the two words,” he says. “At the end of the day, the ‘Commonwealth’ made the most sense. This is one of the aspects of Virginia that sets the state apart.
Measuring 6,000 square feet, “Our Commonwealth” is the largest exhibit related to the museum’s reinvention. “It’s a much more personal look, as to the people, past and present, who all contribute to the regional identity as they come together to form what we consider Virginia,” Talkov says. “We ask, ‘What is Virginia? What does it mean to be from one place? ”
One of the “wow” factors of “Our Commonwealth” is a 15-foot-wide video wall featuring images, still and moving, from every region of the state. “That will change periodically while you’re in space,” Talkov says. “We really work to put you in places that are part of a region.” A soundscape accompanies the imagery to create an immersive experience. “We want people to get a sense of these regions, not just with objects and stories, but also with textures or physical elements and architecture.”
Another element of the museum’s new look is an introductory film that shows the background to Virginia’s history. The title, “Virginia: Far as You Can Imagine”, plays on the original European view that Virginia stretched across the North American continent.
The film depicts the meeting – and collision – of cultures between indigenous peoples, Europeans and enslaved Africans. “It speaks to Virginia as the foundation of our nation’s ideas and also of the founding contradictions,” Talkov says. “The story of Virginia is the story of the nation.”
Other exhibits opening in May at VMHC include the Smithsonian-curated exhibit “American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith” on the democratic project; “Treasures of Virginia”, featuring artifacts associated with notable Virginians; an examination of Virginia’s historical relationship with alcohol titled “Cheers, Virginia!”; and for the youngest, an interactive educational space called “History Matters”.
An adventure in space and time
Next door, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is planning a 200,000 square foot expansion, slated for completion in 2025 at a cost of more than $190 million. The five-story addition provides a wing for the museum’s burgeoning collections relating to African and 21st century art and photography.
The 2020 General Assembly session approved $112 million for this project as part of a capital pool from the proceeds of Virginia Public Building Authority bonds. The VMFA is seeking contributions from private and corporate donors for the remainder of the expansion costs.
Led by the SmithGroup, it is the largest such venture in VMFA history, having seen four previous additions.
The current business includes 12,000 square feet for large exhibits; a special events space on the garden level offering catering facilities for up to 500 people; and, to accommodate them, 200 additional parking spaces. Other components include a separate 40,000 square foot collections center for the museum’s curatorial department and storage. The plan also calls for renovations and alterations to the Leslie Cheek Theatre, Evans Court and the 1936 entrance.
According to the museum, this expansion not only creates more space but also more time by closing the three-month gap between major exhibitions. Some major exhibitions can overlap thanks to the new space and the existing special exhibition gallery on the lower level.
The museum library will become the Raysor Center, which will be devoted to photography, printmaking and drawing.
Virginia Urban Oasis Science Museum
Completion of a 400-space, four-level parking lot in November 2021 allowed the Science Museum of Virginia to begin the next phase of its exterior renovations: transforming 6 of its 36 acres into “The Green,” a space for museum visitors and residents area.
This project, whose first phase should be completed in the spring of 2022, comes at an ideal time. During the pandemic, many of us have come to appreciate outdoor space for gathering with friends and family, but also as a place to nurture mental and physical health.
“There’s been all kinds of research on the benefits of being outdoors,” says Richard Conti, director of wonders at SMV. “You can literally monitor people’s blood pressure and see that it improves when they’re in a natural environment.”
The Green will occupy the space between DMV Drive and Terminal Place, providing a tree-lined driveway along Broad Street.
With its thoughtful design, intimate seating areas and ongoing public art project, The Green may remind visitors of the parks of New York and Paris, where the staff and designers of Glavé & Holmes Architecture and HG Design sought inspiration.
“We think of it as a gallery,” says Conti, with different educational experiences around the park’s native plants, 70% of which are in the Richmond area.
The Green also provides an opportunity for SMV to show the impact green infrastructure can have on the environment, wildlife and community through reducing urban heat, improving the quality of air and stormwater management. “We hope to inspire other entities to do similar things,” says Conti.
More in Stor(ag)e at The Valentine
For the past year and a half, as the city of Richmond sorts through its history – at least metaphorically – The Valentine has been going through the same process, metaphorically and literally.
The museum is preparing for a new space in a two-level addition to its Clay Street facility. “We’re moving forward with smaller, more focused, and more environmentally friendly storage space,” says Bill Martin, director of The Valentine.
According to plans created by Glavé & Holmes Architecture, the new second floor space will include a 469 square foot reading room and a 179 square foot viewing room. The third floor will house offices and spaces for the museum’s collection. The addition is expected to be completed by summer 2023.
To prepare for the new storage space – and to ensure they are using it effectively and efficiently – Valentine staff have been working since January 2020 to dispose of the 1.6 million items in their collection. In doing so, they determined which items bring the most value to The Valentine and which items might be more valuable to other local historic sites.
Most importantly, the museum works to ensure that as many of Richmond’s stories as possible are represented. “It’s about making sure that what we have is correct, but also understanding what we need to have in order for our collection to be representative of the whole city,” says Martin.